Historically, cameras shot reels of cine film which had to be developed. The resulting film strips (rushes) were cut using a blade to cement together, to edit the length and sequence of shots. Copies of the final production edit were released as the master. Magnetic tape brought economy and immediacy, scenes could be shot, edited and transmitted on television within the same day. Tape-based editing was still “linear” – clips of the recording were dubbed sequentially from a player deck to a recorder deck to assemble the production.

mini play diagram of tape-based editing
Figure 1. How tape-based editing would have worked in the old days

Non-linear editing was made possible when multimedia computers could digitise analogue tape or copy from digital tape (or cards/disks). Instead of two “decks”, selections from source clips are assembled (cut, re-ordered, mixed) onto an intermediate (playable) on-screen “timeline” to be rendered out to a final production.

mini play diagram of “typical” video edit workflow
Figure 2. How digital edit production would have worked in the relatively old days (before Blackbird®)

As you can imagine, back then, almost every step was time-consuming, and therefore costly. However, one particular step, although very time consuming, could prove even more costly if not performed thoroughly.

Knowing what is on your rushes

All of those historical methods have a drawback soon discovered in production – it is necessary to know which shots and events are “on” each particular reel or tape (and at what time positions they may be found). Logging is important to any production process – someone will play each incoming asset to derive knowledge of the content, and the location within the asset (expressed as “in” and “out” times).

A “log sheet” was simply a list of rows of such log entries. Logging on computer results in a metadata file (metadata is “data about data”) which accompanies the clip. The concept of logging today is as strong a requirement as ever – a significant time (and cost) saving stage of any professional production.

The Blackbird platform is the next step! Moving forward from the desktop, studio or production suite, Blackbird is centred around a cloud application which cleverly accepts incoming source matter and ingests it to a much faster proxy distributed across the Blackbird cloud, and supplied immediately to any of the Blackbird player or editor products in use by that relevant account.

Describing the parts of Blackbird®

This online manual describes the parts of the Blackbird system you may experience: using the Blackbird Edge Server; using the Blackbird control centre; using the Blackbird cloud video editor; using some of the smaller leaner more specialised apps for viewing, logging, clipping and simple publishing. As you can imagine from the preceding sentence, Blackbird is not simply one application which you load onto a computer, it is a distributed production environment with quite a few different “faces” to it.

describing the parts

Blackbird® Edge Servers

The incoming material meets the edge of the cloud via a Blackbird Edge Server (or several) assigned to that production team’s account, upon which their full-resolution source is to be held. The effect is that the whole process is as fast as is possible, yet distributed worldwide – far more enabling than a desktop NLE from the previous century’s generation. Your account may be running an Edge Server in the form of a physical box – an appliance we supply, or your account may be running one or more of your own Mac computers running our macOS Edge Server app.

Blackbird® cloud

Our cloud is not just video storage (although it is indeed that – distributed proxy storage, with high-resolution original source “parked” on one or more Blackbird Edge Servers for your account). The Blackbird cloud is effectively a very large distributed web app, which runs a control centre for your account, runs the cloud video editor, and behind the scenes runs many processing actions to deal with the flow of media and creation of proxy and published results.

Blackbird® control centre

This is a web-based app through which you or your team may maintain control of your interactions with the cloud, the Edge Server and the cloud video editor, according to your account. Many of the actions available in the cloud video editor are pre-sets which are tailored to your specific account and workflow. These preset buttons are originated and maintained within the control centre. A useful level of work may also be performed within the control centre without having to go to the cloud video editor.

Blackbird® Forte cloud video editor

Forte is an industry-level non-linear video editor with comprehensive capabilities, progressively revealed through use of Secondary-click (or Option+click/Alt+click) mouse actions. Forte runs as a web app (or alternatively as a Java app in some cases) anywhere in the world, interacting with the Blackbird cloud for proxy material. The result is an extremely fast workflow for what would hitherto have been quite expensive parts of the production process due to both time constraints and the logistics of moving bulk data around. In many ways the Forte cloud video editor forms the bulk of this user manual, but the aforementioned components of the Blackbird platform will of course be put into context where necessary – you are quite likely to be exposed to the rest of platform in due course.

The flow of work

Each organisation will typically arrive at a viable workflow — partly internally and partly through external coercion and constraints — to be able to produce reliably and on time to acceptable quality and within budget. Blackbird is able to be organised quite tightly around workflows to the extent that one organisation running a particular workflow may see a somewhat different Blackbird environment to another organisation with a significantly different workflow. As a result, the content of this manual must by definition represent a more generic view than you may be seeing in front of you on your computer.

Your process adds value

What all organisations will have in common is the notion of putting something in, to then get something out which has had value added. Otherwise there would be no point in the process at all. Any task in any industry involves applying effort to change or alter incoming matter, the processed matter now becomes the output of that task, and is considered to be value-added. Some tasks are time-intensive and labour-intensive, even iterative or repetitive. Those are the stages in a work process in which savings can be made if those steps are streamlined first.

mini play diagram of uselessly-generic value-added workflow
Figure 3. A work task involves applying effort which effects change to incoming material, resulting in value added product

Workflows without editing

At first sight, one would expect most organisations to use our cloud video editor to edit video in the cloud. For many organisations, however, this is not quite the case. Some production houses will not perform timeline edits to their incoming material (perhaps merely clipping, then publishing, from a live input stream).

mini play diagram of clipping workflow
Figure 4. In which the product of the effort is ‘clipping’

Some productions will not require video, rather, merely decisions as the process output (logging and review).

mini play diagram of logging workflow
Figure 5. In which the product of the effort is ‘logging’

Some productions will only require an EDL as their output. The source video was already on their Avid suite. The compatible EDL which is arrived at using Blackbird gives a faster and more economical turn-around of an edit or assembly than actually using the Avid suite for the same job. The EDL / Avid AAF published from Blackbird by now contains additional value-added work achieved in a more streamlined environment than the Avid suite itself.

mini play diagram of EDL / AAF workflow
Figure 6. In which the task produces an EDL for round-tripping, such as Avid AAF etc.

Consequently, Blackbird is highly workflow-aware, and your account will have been arranged with a view to using the most efficacious workflow your organisation has agreed to deploy.

Workflow steps in applied detail

The common steps in most workflows (again, this will vary) are:

  • Arriving at a source of video signal or video file (this responsibility is within the realm of the organisation, not Blackbird). For example, live feeds over SDI, or camera cards gathered from a shoot.

  • Ingesting the video matter. For this, the typical requirement is a specific appliance we provide known as a Blackbird Edge Server (or also more recently, a macOS Edge Server app which can run on a modern Mac computer).

  • At the point ingesting begins, it is possible to begin editing or viewing/reviewing (or logging). This may be performed anywhere else in the world, and need not only be performed on the Edge Server the ingest was initiated upon (although for remote field operations such as hard news gathering, this may be the only case).

    mini play diagram of going from source to ready-to-ingest

In the case of broadcast production, editing in earnest may well not begin immediately – usually the first steps are to look at what has arrived to become familiar with what you have. This is to assess suitability of assets for inclusion or not into the production. This might be a relatively deep process, or is often a rapid and immediate selection pass.

That further step is frequently referred to as “logging”, which is a specialised part of the production process. Incoming shots, material or streams are identified in some manner (to enable finding later), the times of events noted, and the content at these times very roughly “tagged” with keywords, to enable decisions to be made without having to look through the entire set of clips each time.

The metadata from logging will consist of the identification, the events and their associated times, and some form of identifying keywords at these points to describe what is going on in the clip.

Clips that are to prove useless for the production are able to be cheerfully swept aside at this point, further thinning down the workflow asset collection.

mini play diagram of the logging action

A related process is that of “reviewing”. Given the logging information, it may be necessary to show someone else on the team with a given responsibility (anywhere else in the world), a collection of logged clips to ascertain suitability for use (or not). The product of this kind of reviewing process is often as simple as a “go/no-go” decision of a clip’s inclusion.

Again, like logging, the faster this process is completed the less resistance the overall production workflow will suffer later (and consequently, budget). Blackbird excels at allowing you to rapidly present content requiring decisions in this manner.

mini play diagram of the reviewing action

Those are generally the steps of the production process in which Blackbird assists in arriving at the production on time, to quality, and within budget.